Vilnius, Capital of Lithuania

Although when one thinks about the Baltic countries one also thinks (naturally enough) about the Baltic Sea, Vilnius is about as far from the sea as it can be and still be within the borders of Lithuania, which it serves as capital. Accordingly, Vilnius has little in common with its fellow Baltic capitals, Rīga and Tallinn, both of which served for centuries as seaports in the Hanseatic League and reflect the German and Scandinavian influences that came with such trade.

The outside influences dominant in Vilnius are primarily Polish – thanks to centuries of alliance within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and even before – with a dash of Russian thrown in, thanks to later control by the Russian tsars and eventually the Soviet Union. Thus, for example, while Rīga and Tallinn have a number of Lutheran churches, reflected a German and Swedish heritage, Vilnius churches are decidedly Roman Catholic, with a smattering of Russian Orthodox.

In centuries past, Vilnius was a great center of culture and learning within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Vilnius University, founded in 1579, was an important center of science. Vilnius also was nicknamed the "Jerusalem of Lithuania" because of its large Jewish population (reaching one-third of the city's population by 1939) and its importance as a center of Jewish culture and scholarship, which came to an abrupt and brutal end in the Nazi occupation during World War II when some 95% of Lithuania's Jews were murdered.

Today, Vilnius is at last the capital of an independent Lithuania and it is thriving, both economically and culturally. Tourists, in particular, have been drawn to Vilnius' Old Town – said to be the largest in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – with its ornate, Baroque churches and other structures. Vilnius also offers a wide selection of restaurants, night clubs and other attractions. And, where else are you likely to find a statue of Frank Zappa?

My time in Vilnius was short and further hampered by some unfortunate weather. Accordingly, I didn't get to see as much of the city as I would have liked. In addition, I seemed to have particularly bad timing while visiting Vilnius' famous churches. It seems there was always some service in progress and photography was precluded, either through common courtesy or express prohibition. For these reasons, the photos here do not include many of Vilnius' most well-known attractions.